Harris, Robert (1581-1658) (DNB00)

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HARRIS, ROBERT (1581–1658), president of Trinity College, Oxford, was born 'in a dark time and place,' at Broad Campden, Gloucestershire, in 1581. The received date of his birth, 1578, is incorrect. Harris was educated at the free schools of Chipping Campden and Worcester, matriculating, aged 15, at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, 10 June 1597, when his relative Robert Lyson was principal. His parents were poor, with a large family, and Harris, in order to obtain tuition in philosophy, taught Greek and Hebrew. He graduated B.A. on 5 June 1600, and though originally intended for the law decided to enter the church. When in 1604 the university was dissolved on account of the plague, Harris went home and preached his first sermon at Chipping Campden. Returning to Oxford he studied theology for ten years, and graduated B.D. on 5 May 1614 (Oxf. Univ. Reg. (Oxf. Hist. Soc.). ii. ii. 220, iii. 220). Before his ordination he seems to have helped the rector of Chiselhampton, near Oxford. In 1614 Sir Anthony Coke offered him the living of Hanwell, Oxfordshire. Archbishop Bancroft had other nominees, and it was not till Harris had been examined in divinity by Barlow, bishop of Rochester, when 'they Greeked it till they were both run aground for want of words, upon which they burst into a fit of laughter, and so gave it over,' that the appointment was confirmed. Hanwell parsonage now became a favourite resort for Oxford students. Harris won fame as a preacher at St. Paul's, St. Saviour's Southwork, and other London churches, as well as in his own neighbourhood. He was a staunch puritan and parliamentarian. On 25 April 1642 he was chosen one of the puritan divines fit to be consulted by parliament, and on the occasion of a public fast (25 May) preached before the House of Commons. After Edgehill the royalist troopers quartered at Hanwell turned out Harris and his family, and he was finally ejected from his living and obliged to fly to London (September 1642). He was there made one of the assembly of divines, and received the living of St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate. In 1646 the committee of Hampshire presented him to Petersfield, but before he could take possession he was ordered to Oxford (10 Sept.) as one of the six divines commissioned to preach and invade any pulpit they pleased. From May 1647 to 1652, and again from 1654 to 1658, he was visitor to the university, and on 4 June 1647 preached at St. Mary's his first visitation sermon, in which he defended himself from the charge of pluralism. On 12 April 1648 the chancellor, Lord Pembroke, admitted Harris to the degree of D.D., and at the same time he was made president of Trinity in the place of Hannibal Potter [q. v.], whom he had assisted to eject. The living of Garsington, Oxfordshire, went with the headship. Though advanced in years he seems to have conscientiously fulfilled all his duties, lecturing once a week at All Souls' College, and preaching on Sundays at Garsington. He governed the college well for ten years, but exacted exorbitant fines for the renewal of leases. He died on 1 Dec. 1658, at the age of 77. Shortly before, he had written a letter of advice to his children, which is published in his biography. He was buried in the college chapel. Ralph Bathurst, a successor in the presidency, is said to have struck two words, 'æternum celebrandus,' out of Harris's epitaph (Wharton, Life of Bathurst, ed. 1761, p. 148). He was satirised and caricatured by the royalists as a notorious pluralist, but there is no proof that he enjoyed all his livings at the same time, and Grey, who calls him 'a fanatical hero,' acquits him of the charge (Grey, Examination, ii. 298). In 1648 Harris published two letters to vindicate himself from the slanders of an unknown writer (author of a Letter from Oxon.., 17 April 1648). He was liberal to the posterity of the founder of Trinity (Warton, Life of Pope, 1780. p. 446), was a good Hebrew scholar, and was well versed in church history. Bishop Wilkins (Tract on Preaching, pp. 82–3) describes him as one of the most eminent divines for preaching and practical theology. His wife suffered from religious mania. He published a large number of separate sermons (see list in Wood, Athenæ, ed. Bliss; Catalogues British Museum and Bodleian). A 'Concio ad Clerum,' by him, was printed, with another by Dr. Featly, at Utrecht in 1657, under the title of 'Pedum Pastorale &c.' A collected edition of his works was first published in 1635, fol.; 2nd edit. London, 1654–5, fol.

[The chief authority is a eulogistic life 'of that judicious Divine and accomplished Preacher, Robert Harris. D.D., collected by a joynt concourse of some who knew him well,' by a friend, William Durham, Harris's kinsman, minister of Tredington, 1660. fol. See also Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iii. 458; Neal's Puritans, iii. 394, iv. 189; Brook's Lives of the Puritans, iii. 303; Walker's Sufferings of the Clergy, pp. 3, 125–6; Beesley’s Hist. of Banbury, pp. 79, 240, &c.; Burrows's Visitation of University of Oxford (Camd. Soc.), 554, 565.]

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